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Chelmsford Theatre’s refurb set to be under budget as new outreach programme launches

Photograph by Aaron Crowe.

Chelmsford City Council has confirmed that the front-of-house refurbishment project at Chelmsford Theatre is projected to come in under budget.

Contract negotiations with the project contractors have just been concluded and the final projections indicate that the refurbishment will come just under the final budget of £3.25 million, which was set by the city council cabinet in October 2022.

The final projections come as the theatre has this month launched an exciting new programme of outreach events for summer 2024.

Final budget set following inflation and supply chain issues

Chelmsford City Council first announced plans in February 2021 to refurbish the outdated and tired-looking Civic Theatre and Cramphorn Studio, transforming the visitor experience and improving the financial viability of the venue. At the time, an opening estimate was proposed for the project of £1 million. The estimate was then increased by £0.5 million in recognition of shortages and the consequent increase in price of materials being experienced worldwide in 2021.

In March 2022, the original capital budget for the project was approved by Full Council and this was set at £2.75 million, which reflected an increase in the scope of the refurbishment. This new figure brought forward spending already planned in future years for other theatre improvement schemes. This meant that everything could be delivered together, to be more cost effective and provide a better overall experience for theatregoers.

In October 2022, with works already underway at the theatre, an additional £500,000 was then approved, largely due to the need for specialist expertise from external consultants, the impact of inflation, and supply chain issues. This resulted in a final approved budget of £3.25 million for the project.

More shows and bigger audiences for thriving theatre

Since reopening, Chelmsford Theatre has seen a big improvement in its programming, sales, and audience feedback. In 2023–24 the theatre doubled its box office income compared to 2019–20, welcoming over 140,000 audience members. Its 2023 panto was hugely successful, with over 90% of tickets sold.

Front of house sales have also doubled compared to 2019–20, and 98.5% of customers who completed post-show surveys in 2023 said they would visit again.

Drinks and snack bar with doors to stalls 1 to 12 and stalls 13 to 24
Chelmsford Theatre's foyer bar. Photograph by Aaron Crowe.

The theatre’s programming has gone from strength to strength since reopening, with a 40% increase in shows. The venue attracted a diverse range of family, music, named artists, comedy, and entertainment shows in 2023 and 2024, including comedian Romesh Ranganathan, actor David Suchet, and country music duo The Shires. For the first time, the theatre also welcomed large-scale West End shows Blood Brothers and The Mousetrap – both of which sold out.

Councillor Marie Goldman, Deputy Leader of Chelmsford City Council and Cabinet Member for a Connected Chelmsford, says this sustained success for the theatre proves that audiences think the investment was worthwhile:

“Now the final contract negotiations for the refurbishment are over, it's fantastic to be able to confirm that this project, which has transformed the theatre into a well-used and thriving cultural venue, was delivered under budget. We’ve been keen to talk about this final projection for some time, but sensitive contract negotiations have prevented us from doing so up until now.

“Since reopening the theatre, we’ve seen bigger audiences and increased levels of audience satisfaction, and we’ve been attracting some really exciting shows like Blood Brothers in 2023, and now Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) in October 2024. The theatre’s performance figures speak for themselves, demonstrating that our investment in the refurbishment project was absolutely worth it, and indicating a bright future ahead.”

Cllr Marie Goldman, Deputy Leader of Chelmsford City Council and Cabinet Member for a Connected Chelmsford

Significant new outreach programme launched for this summer

In line with Our Chelmsford Our Plan and Chelmsford’s Cultural Strategy, the theatre has also been working to diversify its programming and reach wider audiences, particularly young people. It has exciting plans to launch new creative engagement projects, including a brand-new outreach programme of events for summer 2024.

A series of new workshops and masterclasses will come to Chelmsford Theatre in summer 2024.

‘Discover at Chelmsford Theatre’ gives local communities the opportunity to learn new skills and to explore what goes on ‘behind the scenes’ at the theatre through a series of workshops and masterclasses.

The upcoming summer 2024 programme features masterclasses on singing, acting and musical theatre, as well as more focused sessions exploring West End audition techniques, stage combat, puppetry, and street dance.

Stage Fighting Marketing 4
Stage combat masterclasses will be coming to the theatre this summer as part of a new outreach programme 'Discover at Chelmsford Theatre'.

The first event in the programme will celebrate music on 21 June with ‘Make Music Day’. The theatre will welcome Ace Music Therapy for a children’s sensory workshop for 0-5-year-olds, as well as an adult music mindfulness workshop focused on how music and voice can support wellbeing and mental health.

Find out more about all the shows coming to Chelmsford Theatre this year, including drama, musicals, comedy, cinema, talks and workshops, at https://www.chelmsfordtheatre.co.uk/.

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Cherelle Nightingill
Cherelle Nightingill

Cherelle writes about Chelmsford Theatre, Hylands Estate, Chelmsford Museum, the Mayor of Chelmsford and culture and events in the city.